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Sunday, May 15, 2016

Her Baloney About Hillary Clinton and UFOs

On a blog that is part of the National Geographic web site, a blogger named Nadia Drake posted a post this week with the title “What Hillary Clinton Says About Aliens Is Totally Misguided.” I was surprised by this insinuation that Hillary Clinton had stated a position about aliens. Each day I have been following the presidential campaign coverage on cable TV – how come I had not heard anyone mention it? 
 
To back up this claim, Drake has a link to an interview in which Hillary Clinton says, “There’s enough stories out there that I don’t think everybody is just sitting, you know, in their kitchen making them up.” This is the only relevant Hillary Clinton quote which Drake cites.

When I took a look at the interview, I found the relevant part was at 24:11. Here is what Clinton said after being asked about disclosing government UFO files.

Clinton: I want to open the files as much as we can. If mean if there's some huge national security thing, and I can't get agreement to open them, I won't. But I do want to open them. Because I'm interested.

Interviewer: Do you believe?

Clinton: I don't know. I want to see what the information shows, right? But there are enough stories out there that I don’t think everybody is just sitting, you know, in their kitchen making them up. I think people see things. What they see, I don't know.

Drake provides no evidence at all that Clinton has said anything about aliens. Her claim that Hillary Clinton has said something about aliens is therefore inaccurate. Contrary to her insinuation that Hillary Clinton said something about aliens in the interview, Clinton sounded entirely noncommittal, by twice using the phrase “I don't know” to indicate a lack of any position on whether aliens exist. Drake has misled us by both insinuating that Clinton stated some position on aliens (which she did not), and also insinuating that Clinton advanced some flaky position that is “totally misguided.” Her actual statements on the matter are noncommittal and perfectly reasonable to anyone thinking that the public should be well-informed.

The misleading title of Drake's blog post is not the only fib Drake commits. She starts out her blog post with a lie. She says, “In the spring of 1999, a UFO flew over downtown Ithaca, New York.” After referring to this thing as an "alien object," in the second paragraph she again refers to this object as a UFO. But much later in her post she tells us that this object was actually an upside-down frying pan with a saucepan lid over it – something that she and a classmate had deliberately made to make a fake UFO photo – something she rigged up to a wire (so therefore an object which could not actually have “flown over” the city of Ithaca).

UFO means “unidentified flying object.” It is quite okay to use that term for any object that is both unidentified and flying. So if you see something flying that you can't identify, you can truthfully call that a UFO, even if you later find out that is was natural or man-made. But it is untruthful to use the term UFO to refer to an object that you have constructed yourself for the sake of making a fake UFO photo, for such an object is never unidentified. It was also untruthful for Drake to have used a photo of her fake frying-pan UFO that had the caption, “After a few minutes, the spacecraft turned east and flew over the Cornell campus.”

The rest of Drake's blog post is an attempted debunking of UFO sightings, and it is one of the laziest attempts at UFO debunking I have ever read. Drake shows no evidence of having read up on any specific UFO incidents. She limits herself to lame armchair arguments and irrelevant reminiscing about her summer internships.

Drake suggests that eyewitness testimony cannot be trusted, and says “check out the decades of research that have been done on the reliability of witnesses testifying in court.” Hardly a compelling argument, since we very often do send people to years in prison based solely on eyewitness testimony, because such testimony is in the great majority of cases largely correct. Furthermore, a typical UFO sighting will be written down very quickly, after a time gap much shorter than the months that often elapse between a crime and a witness testimony describing that crime in court. The fact that someone may make a mistake about identifying a face is no reason at all for doubting the accuracy of someone who claims to have seen a huge extremely bright object speeding across the sky (or a mile-long UFO, as at least 30 witnesses reported during the sightings at Stephenville, Texas).

From an observational standpoint, a face is a set of fine details, but UFO reports are almost never reports of fine details – they are instead reports of extremely conspicuous deviations from normality in the sky. Since it is much, much easier to recognize extremely conspicuous deviations from normality in the sky than to recognize faces, any human imperfection in recognizing faces does nothing to impugn the reality of UFO reports.

Drake then trots out the old skeptic slogan that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. This is a silly slogan, and those who use it never specify what they mean by extraordinary evidence. In the case of UFOs there is, in fact, the most extraordinary evidence of close encounters. Some of the most extraordinary findings of science have been made by just piling up ordinary observations. There's no claim more extraordinary than the claim of the Big Bang, but the evidence that established it is just ordinary kind of evidence such as red shifts and a radiation reading from an unimpressive-looking device in New Jersey. If you were to claim that someone could levitate a rock, that would be an extraordinary claim, but you could establish it with ordinary types of evidence such as three simultaneous live broadcasts by local news stations, and sworn testimony by 20 witnesses.

In her discussion of UFO evidence, Drake implies that it is “little more than unverified anecdotes,” which is a quite misleading statement given the massive photographic evidence (both still photos and videos) that have been made of UFOs. Photographs and videos are not anecdotes. As for “unverified anecdotes,” imagine if 30 people all reported severe stomach pains after eating at a restaurant. Until chemical tests were done, such accounts would be “unverified anecdotes,” but they would be a highly reliable indicator that something important and worthy of attention had occurred.

My suggestions to Ms. Drake are as follows: (1) don't mislead your readers by claiming that a presidential candidate “says about aliens” something that is “totally misguided” when the candidate actually twice said “I don't know” when asked about whether she believed in UFOs; (2) don't publish photos of fake UFOs you have built; (3) if you do publish a photo of a fake UFO you have built, don't put a serious-looking caption underneath the photo making the phony claim that the object is a spacecraft; (4) if you try to debunk UFOs, try to show some slight indication that you have studied the evidence.

 Unidentified object over Bank of America tower in NYC